With the general election barely a week away, and given recent reports on how badly the UK lags behind other countries on the availability of Fibre to The Premise broadband (the UK only has 2% availability) and the fact we rank 54th in the world for 4G – what are the political parties committing to in their manifestos in order to improve this dreadful situation?
Dave Millet of Telecoms consultancy Equinox has undertaken the onerous task of reading all the main manifestos to see what they have to say – and doesn't find a lot of encouragement.
In terms of actual mentions Labour, the SNP and the Conservatives are about equal with each devoting around 250 words to the subject. The Liberal Democrats think the topic merits 50 words, Plaid Cymru 20 words and there is no mention of it at all in UKIP's manifesto.
The positives, and there are few, are is that most of the political parties are now talking about Ultra Fast broadband (FTTP) to the premise. This shows an acceptance that the superfast (speeds of up to 24 mbps) are no longer relevant in the digital and cloud based age.
Only the Liberal Democrats have set an aggressive target of 2020 for FTTP to be the standard technology, and they are the only party to say that SMEs are a priority. However, they let themselves down by making no mention of 5G whatsoever.
Plaid Cymru make the commitment to FTTP and 5G for the whole of Wales but there is no mention of the timescales. By comparison the SNP has set a much lower target; 100 per cent of premises across Scotland to have access to super-fast broadband by 2021. There is no mention of FTTP but there is a call to raise Universal Service Obligation (USO) level to 30Mbps, and improving mobile connectivity across Scotland – but no mention of 5G or any timescales. They have a 'rural areas first' policy, rather than a SME focus.
Of the two main parties Labour still has a focus of standard superfast broadband with universal availability by 2022 but no dates on 5G. They do however promise that on day one they will instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll out ultrafast 300bps by 2027. They also will appoint a Digital Ambassador to liaise with technology companies to promote Britain as an attractive place for investment. Finally, they are the only party to specifically mention the challenges of rural connectivity and coverage.
The Conservatives are the only party to put a figure on the investments they will make – i.e. £740m which has been previously mentioned. They are saying 2020 for universal access to superfast broadband and a target of around 40% coverage for FTTP by 2027. A figure Lithuania has already reached. They will bring back fibre vouchers for businesses – I just hope that this is better thought through than the last scheme which was widely abused by a number of suppliers. They are similarly unambitious with 5G in that they plan to have the majority (51 percent?) of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027. Japan and South Korea are planning to launch their 5G services in 2020
So, none of the political parties seem to have grasped the fact that businesses in the UK suffer poorer productivity and higher costs because of our dreadful infrastructure. None has set out a credible costed proposal for the faster rollout of FTTP or 5G, ridding the country of 'not spots' and improving the day-to-day connectivity and communication issues of many SMEs. Most now acknowledge the problem but they do not seem to have a credible solution.
At a glance guide by Equinox
|Conservative||100% Superfast by 2020
40% by 2027
|51% by 2027|
|Labour||100% Superfast by 2022 100% FTTP by 2027||No dates|
|Liberal Democrats||100% FTTP by 2020||No Mention|
|Plaid Cymru||100% Coverage FTTP – no date||100% Coverage– no date|
|SNP||100% Superfast by 2021, FTTP – No mention||No Mention|
|UKIP||No Mention||No Mention|